Bloc Québécois Tables Bill to Remove Religious Defence to Hate Speech

Bloc Québécois Tables Bill to Remove Religious Defence to Hate Speech
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet speaks in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa on March 9, 2023. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang)
Noé Chartier

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has tabled a bill to remove the provision in the Criminal Code that allows religion to be used as a defence against hate speech charges.

When tabling Bill C-367 on Nov. 28, Mr. Blanchet said the change to the Criminal Code is needed, given the rise in hate that is particularly targeting the Jewish community.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack against Israel and the subsequent retaliation, Montreal has seen a string of attacks by firearms and arson against Jewish institutions, the latest being a Molotov cocktail thrown at the entranceway of the Jewish Community Council of Montreal on Nov. 27.

“We can fear that these acts were encouraged by an exception in the Criminal Code,” Mr. Blanchet said in the House of Commons on Nov. 28.

The text of the bill is very short, as it only seeks to strike two provisions in the Code relating to the “wilful promotion of hatred” and the “wilful promotion of antisemitism.”

The bill would “eliminate as a defence against wilful promotion of hatred or antisemitism the fact that a person, in good faith, expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text,” says a summary.

Mr. Blanchet asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whether his government would expedite the adoption of the bill.

“We’re going to look at the bill from my honourable colleague to look whether it can really help to counter hatred and incitation to violence,” replied Mr. Trudeau. “We’ll be there to keep Canadians safe while respecting the free society in which we live.”

Mr. Blanchet said Mr. Trudeau’s response gave him “prudent enthusiasm.”

“This bill is really short,“ he said. ”All that needs to happen is removing exceptions, two articles of the Criminal Code, which are used to justify, allow, and perpetuate hate speech.”

The tabling of the bill comes shortly after the RCMP said it is investigating a speech made by Muslim preacher Adil Charkaoui in Montreal on Oct. 28.

“Allah, destroy the Zionists aggressors ... Allah, count every one of them, and kill them all, and do not exempt even one of them. Allah, bring upon them a black day,” Mr. Charkaoui said during a pro-Palestinian rally.

Mr. Charkaoui has defended his speech, saying it “did not contain any hate or call to violence” and that he had not uttered the word “Jew.”

Mr. Blanchet asked Mr. Trudeau on Nov. 8 whether he believed Mr. Charkaoui had committed a criminal offence.

“Based on my understanding, it is criminal and warrants a reaction commensurate with a criminal act,” he said.

Mr. Trudeau replied that the words are “anti-Semitic” and an “insult to life and to the hopes of millions of people around the world.”